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Marine Log

January 25, 2007

Whistle blower collects $250,000 award

IRIKA MARITIME SA has been sentenced in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to a $500,000 fine, a special assessment of $250,000 in community service payments and four years of probation for failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book in an attempt to conceal illegal discharges of oily sludge directly into the ocean.

Under the terms of the plea agreement approved by U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton on Jamuary 23, the $250,000 special assessment will be split equally between the Columbia River Estuarine Coastal Fund and the Puget Sound Marine Conservation Fund. Both funds are administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for projects to restore and protect fragile marine habitats.

Judge Leighton also approved a government motion requesting that one half the $500,000 fine, be awarded to the whistle blower.

The Second Engineer told authorities he had objected to the waste dumping, but his protests were ignored by the Chief Engineer Ilias Dimitriou Ntais. Ntais pleaded guilty to Failing to Maintain an Accurate Record Book on November 3, 2006 and was sentenced in December to a $2,500 fine.

At his sentencing hearing Judge Leighton noted that the illegal dumping is not solely the responsibility of one individual and thus the company would face more significant sanctions.

Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle said that the whistle blower put his career in the maritime industries at risk when he contacted authorities.

"A substantial monetary award both rewards the crew member for taking that risk and may provide an incentive for fellow crew members to alert inspectors and investigators of similar conduct on other ships," Oesterle wrote in his motion to the court.

The whistle blower did not know at the time he came forward that there was the possibility of a financial incentive.

According to documents filed in the case, the M/V Irika, is a 623 foot long Panamanian flagged ocean going bulk carrier. On October 5, 2006 U.S. Coast Guard inspectors from Coast Guard Sector Portland boarded the ship at Vancouver, Washington to conduct a routine inspection.

Inspectors reviewed the ships Oil Record Book, a document in which ship engineers must record all transfers and discharges of oil.

Inspectors were unable to identify any discrepancies but were subsequently contacted by the ship's Second Engineer who discretely gave inspectors numerous digital photos of a flexible hose being used to bypass pollution prevention equipment oily sludge directly into the ocean.

The photos prompted inspectors to conduct a second inspection on October 6, 2006, during which they located the hose and found additional evidence of its use.

"Coast Guard Sector Portland personnel are passionate about protecting the marine environment from pollution and have a long history of uncovering environmental crimes from ships," said Captain Patrick Gerrity, U.S. Coast Guard, the Captain of the Port for Portland, Oregon. "We will continue to vigorously seek out those vessel operators that violate environmental laws and when we find such offenders we will work closely with the U.S. Attorney's Office to ensure criminal prosecution to the fullest extent of the law."

Dumping oily waste on the high seas is a significant problem. A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that the dumping of oily waste causes annually as much as eight times the amount of oil pollution from catastrophic spills such as the Exxon Valdez. The oil dumped at sea kills fish and wildfowl, and threatens the entire marine ecosystem. This is the sixth case involving the dumping of oily waste at sea investigated and prosecuted in the Western District of Washington since 2004.

While on probation IRIKA MARITIME must implement an Environmental Management System/Compliance Plan (EMS) to ensure there is no future dumping. The company must hire a third party auditor to ensure it is following all the procedures identified in the EMS.

The auditor will have access to all of the company's ships and records. Each of the auditors reports will be sent to the Coast Guard, the probation office and the U.S. Attorney's Office at the same time the report is sent to the company.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jim Oesterle and Carl Blackstone, and Special Assistant United States Attorney Benes Aldana.